Are We Selfish?

Selfish-person-quotes-care-for-others-quotes

Are we selfish? When this question crops up in my mind, I try to seek an answer within myself first. Am I selfless? After much thinking and admonishing myself, I try to extract an honest answer out of my evasive mind…

“Well, we all have selfish tendencies –  it is only human,” my inner voice whispers.

At times I might have offered my services, done something good for others, without expecting anything in return. Is that enough?

I have given unconditional love to my children and family but another question confronts me…”doesn’t everybody do that?”

‘No, everybody doesn’t do that’, says my friend.

Why are children abandoned, abused, killed? Many of them grow up in acute neglect.

So I went on to search…what exactly is selfishness? While it was so confusing and mind boggling, two definitions appealed to me:

According to Wikipedia: “Selfishness is placing concern with oneself or one’s own interests above the well-being or interests of others.”

According to Oscar Wilde: “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.”

I again asked myself: Do I fit in here? I have never placed ‘my interest’ above but my inner voice slowly speaks: “sometimes, you have!”

I ignore that voice and tell myself: I have never asked others to live according to my wishes. But these arguments didn’t melt my doubts.

Why did I choose only these definitions? Because they suit me?

This reminds me of a woman who gave up her successful career to look after her ailing husband. She was applauded by everybody and was called selfless, but she admitted that she was selfish because she had placed her own concern over and above anything else.

“A selfless act out of even the purest desire to do for others, will be selfish in the satisfaction and happiness it brings to one doing it.”―Ashly Lorenzana

My friend thinks falling in love is also selfish! Isn’t that absurd? How can the basic human emotion make us selfish?

When I try to analyze further, I agree with the reasoning: Love makes people selfish. It crosses all boundaries, it transcends all values and it drags them away into their own world. “Love is the most selfish of all the passions,” said Alexandre Dumas.

I ponder further…

Even those who work for the welfare of others are selfish as they have their own goals in mind… perhaps they want fame, power, self-fulfillment or are eager to record their names in the pages of history.

So I realized that:

  • Selfishness can be defined according to one’s own perspective.
  • Selfish traits are inherent.
  • Self- interest takes us closer to our goals.
  • Selflessness doesn’t bring any rewards.
  • Sacrifices are mocked at in today’s world.
  • The more you acquire, more selfish you become, whether in terms of money or knowledge.
  • Selfish people are actually weak, insecure and unhappy.

Let’s look within:   

  • Are you kind and considerate?
  • Are you tolerant?
  • Do you listen to others?
  • Do you really understand the feelings of others?
  • Do you respect the opinion of others?

I know we all nod to the above questions without giving a profound and honest thought to them. I also hope these questions will keep guiding us toward better understanding and enhancing our personality.

If selfishness hurts you, don’t forget it hurts others too. A little concern for people around us makes us emotionally balanced and less selfish.

Have you come across selfish people? Do you have a different understanding of selfishness? It’s your turn to share your valuable opinion.

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© Balroop Singh

Do We Do Everything For Our Own Selves?

People do everything for their own self. When somebody said this to me long ago, I had dismissed the thought as useless banter, completely convinced that all we do is not just for ourselves. There are friends and family and bosses who receive our love, attachment and services.

I have seen my aunt working all day, doing all household chores with a smile, answering all my innocent questions why she didn’t get any time to rest and why she doesn’t get tired! She didn’t seem to work for her own self…one more convincing thought that reinforced that we don’t do everything for our own selves!!

Probably I wasn’t mature enough to understand or I didn’t want to. She worked all day because she didn’t have a choice. She had to make her place in the family she got married into. Those were the times when women who thought for themselves; got kicked out of the house they were married into.

This thought reverberated in my mind recently when I went to see a very sick friend who could barely recognize me or talk to me. As she lay there, struggling to talk to me in unrecognizable syllables, I felt so helpless. To be honest, I felt most uncomfortable and wanted to get out of her room as quickly as possible. I asked myself…‘what am I doing here?’

The answers that I tried to draw out of me were quite surprising and enlightening. ‘It was my moral duty.’ ‘I wanted to show I cared.’ ‘It was expected of me.’

All of them connected with me! Had I done this for my pride, my own ego and myself, in order to escape my own distress? Did I visit her for my own peace of mind?

Was it what experts call ‘psychological hedonism?’

Eager to seek more answers I went to the ultimate savior – ‘Google’ and discovered that Thomas Hobbes, the seventeenth century philosopher believed that ‘our self-interest reigns supreme in all our acts.’

I have spent many days pondering, watching, understanding and analyzing…small children grab and push to get their little goals accomplished, they refuse to share and have to be repeatedly told that sharing is a virtue. Siblings vie with each other to prove their worth, probably impelled by an innate competitive spirit.

Sportsmen do the same and even can hurt the players of another team to win.

We donate only those things, which we don’t need. Even those rich who donate liberally to exemplify their generosity make it a point to highlight their kind acts in one form or the other. All charity is done to satisfy our own ego, to gain recognition, fame and respect.

Are empathy, compassion and altruism mere words, which may compel us to put up a façade of humanity to alleviate the agony of others?

All we do for others can be summarized under three headings:

  • Moral duty, which we have to perform for our family and friends
  • Expectations of others to show that we are successful and working
  • Self-satisfaction

“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.” ― Aldous Huxley

All spiritual gurus and scriptures tell us that attachments are mere illusions. The sooner we detach ourselves from worldly possessions, the better it would be!

This paradox of accomplishing and then giving up with a smile and satisfaction has always confounded me.

Just look within and introspect! Ask this question to your inner self: ‘what have I done for others?’ I know many answers would crop up immediately but consider before blurting out…was it selfless? Did you do any good without expectations?

I agree with David Hume, “ There is some benevolence, however small, infused into our bosom; some spark of friendship for human kind; some particle of the dove, kneaded into our frame, along with the elements of the wolf and the dove.”

We have been trying to evolve into better beings. Good thoughts do influence us. Positivity does bring the best out of us but we need constant reminders so that those elements of ‘wolf,’ which are kneaded into our DNA, can be kept under wraps.

Many questions remain unanswered. Let’s discuss them in the comments section.

Thank you for reading this. Please add your valuable reflections, they are much appreciated.

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Balroop Singh.